The letter of protest that was written to me raised issues with my books on a number of accounts, each of which I have thought carefully in turn before returning to - you guessed it - writing more fantasy for my next publishing contract.
One issue I wanted to discuss today is the question of whether dark literature is appropriate for young adults. I have been asked before my reasons for writing such "gritty" literature. While my fantasy books are not scandalous or even (I believe) unnecessarily gory, adult readers occasionally debate whether it is wise to expose young readers to such dark material. By dark, I suppose they are referring to the fact that I show death numerous times, general child maltreatment (although even innocent Harry Potter has that - what relative puts bars on their nephew's window and barely feeds them?), supernatural powers of evil, general violence, and at times, plain old twisted human nature at its best - or rather worst. Are these things appropriate in literature for young adults?
I say young adults because I wish to stress that I don't write for "children" as such. Currently, I'm not writing middle grade literature for five through to twelve-year-olds. These books are for twelves and up.
Next, I want to say no to my original question. No, and yes. I suppose a more accurate answer is "it depends". I tend to ask myself the "is-it-appropriate-question" with regards to the following criteria.
1. Is the perspective helpful? If I'm showing out of hand violence as a good thing - if I'm giving the reader no hope - if all I'm doing is creating confusion and not reason - I consider myself violating my own God-given image, made to reflect my Creator, who created reason out of chaos, meaning out of confusion. When I write darker content, I do it to bring meaning and reason out of the confusion of this life. I want to show young adults that life can be hard and still have purpose. You can lose it all and still have everything to gain. You can suffer tremendous pain, survive it, and thrive in God's timing and purpose.
2. Is it necessary to tell the story? And is this part of the story necessary to tell? Do I really need to show that particular death? Or can I mention it off screen or even just let the person live? If it serves no purpose in the plot and the ultimate good that I'm trying to work through the story, I discard that particular story beat. If it heavily influences the character and provides a good learning point through narrative, then it is worthwhile including it.
3. Is it age appropriate? With regards to this question, I tend to assume in young adult literature that young adults can handle most of what adults can with regards to the content of books. However, what they do need is guidance. Hence, worldview infused with hope and a modicum of wisdom is certainly important.
What are the benefits of "darker literature" for adolescents (when appropriate)? I think those who are exposed to tough questions early on will have a better idea of what they believe and how to cope with the obstacles life throws at them. Adults tend to look at young adults and believe their innocence needs to be preserved. What they don't realise is that, for many young adults, their innocence has been robbed from them by society, bullying, or some other source that the parent, guardian, or well-meaning adult has no idea about. Though tragic, this is increasingly the case. Even if the said young adult has been completely sheltered externally, they cannot be entirely protected from the ravages of early depression, anxiety, or some form of internal struggle. And if you wanted to shield them from everything, you'd have to ensure they live and move in a Wifi free zone. Because sin exists, many young adults have encountered the broken world around them not long after they hit adolescence. Now they need help dealing with it. Ignoring it and pretending the moment of the breaking of the bubble never happened will not solve anything.
Would you deny them the opportunity to confront and work through the tough issues?
What are your thoughts?